Thoughts on Involving Our Clients in AAC Vocabulary Selection

September 19, 2013 by - 2 Comments

Thoughts on Involving Our Clients in AAC Vocabulary Selection
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Would you want someone else to pick the car you drive? How happy would you be if someone else selected your wardrobe? How would it feel if the only things you could say were based on words that someone else decided were appropriate for you?

Choosing vocabulary is a BIG responsibility. When the client is not fully literate, he/she is constrained to communicating with the words we provide and nothing more. If we left out important concepts, he’s stuck. If we worded the message in a style/tone that doesn’t fit her personality, she’ll be reluctant to use the AAC to communicate.

Given this, it makes sense to involve the client in the process of choosing the single words, phrases, sentences, and narratives that we put on the AAC device or in the communication book. If the client is involved, then the messages we end up with are more likely to be ones that work for them, right? Not many SLPs would disagree with that.

Here’s the problem: Our clients with AAC needs often can’t tell us what they want. If they could, they wouldn’t need AAC. So, given that the client is minimally verbal or nonverbal, how can you involve him/her in the selection process? Here are some ideas.

1. Give them the right of refusal: Go through each message you want to add and have them give you a yes/no or thumbs up/down.

2. Use a sorting task: Go through the new messages and have the client sort them into piles.

  • Very important, important, not sure, not very important
  • Definitely, maybe, Definitely not
  • Love it, okay, hate it  
  • Now, later, never

3. Give them a way to tell us that they need a new word or sentence. Put a message in their book or SGD that tells us, “I need a new word.” It may take a little detective work to figure out what new word is needed, but at least this gets the process started and gives our clients an opportunity to use those all-important metalinguistic skills.

Do you have a strategy for helping your client play an active role in choosing the AAC vocabulary? We would love to hear about it.


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This post was written by Carole Zangari


  • todd metzler says:

    I love this post.

    As a consultant, trainer, and team leader, I have always stressed the need for better understanding the client/patient/user/person in enough depth to even make very brief interactions meaningful and successful.

    This is a real challenge for the industry folks who may only have an hour or two to position, demonstrate, modify, and review AAC devices in a sales setting. When a communication device is first placed in front of a person, making that first interaction both a positive and relevant event is vital for successful implementation of AT.

    Follow up trainings, programming meetings, and ongoing education need to include the aforementioned ideas and concepts in Dr. Zangari’s post.

    Thank you very much for putting these ideas up on your blog. I have passed this out to countless colleagues this morning!

    My Best,

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